American and German intelligence agencies secretly bought a Swiss company that sold encryption devices to governments across the world, and added weaknesses in these devices to eavesdrop on other countries for decades, a report by The Washington Post and German broadcaster ZDF has revealed.

Since World War II, the company Crypto AG sold encrypted devices to more than 120 countries, including India, the report published on Tuesday said. Iran, military juntas in Latin America, Pakistan, and the Vatican were among at least 62 clients identified in the files. It is not exactly clear what India sent to its missions overseas and how much of it was spied on by US and erstwhile West Germany.

The China and the Soviet Union, which did not trust the company, did not use these devices. But the CIA still learnt many things by using the communication between these two and other countries that had bought Crypto’s devices.

A list of at least 62 countries that were identified in the CIA report. | Credit: The Washington Post

America’s Central Intelligence Agency and Germany’s BND controlled all aspects of Crypto’s functioning since the 1970s and used the millions of dollars that Crypto made from sales in other projects. While Germany left the project in the 1990s and sold its shares to the CIA, the US may have continued to use the company till 2018, when the company was dissolved. The two companies that bought Crypto’s assets have denied any involvement. But the Swiss government on Tuesday launched an investigation into the matter.

The arrangement was revealed in a classified CIA report obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF. The report identifies the officers and the company executives who were involved as well as describes how the US and its allies exploited other nations for years. The operation was first known by the code name “Thesaurus” and later “Rubicon”.

“It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report said. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the US and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.” The five or six countries may refer to the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since the World War II.

Though the US and Germany did not dispute the authenticity of the documents, they refused to comment.